Driving down “church row” in small city USA, I would often wonder why we don’t fill our sacred spaces with the secular during the week in response to our call to reach our community. Seeing all of that space available and going unused always bothered me. Some churches have embraced the idea of community space – a local mega-church keeps their coffee shop and children’s indoor playground open as a fun destination that is especially inviting during the Texas summer heat. But these are few and far between.
My question is, if we are called to reach our community for Christ, doesn’t it make sense to help find solutions to the needs in our community? What better way to show Christian love than to meet a need, with no expectation of recompense from the recipient? By allowing secular groups to use space in our churches without condition, we send a powerful message to the world. We create a loving witness that can open doors to the hearts of people who do not have a positive view of the church. When sacred space intersects with the secular – wonderful things can happen.
So what might that look like? Let’s look at the Carrollton Church of the Nazarene in Carrollton, Texas to find out. I always wanted to join a writers group but all of the ones around me were further than I wanted to drive on a weekday evening fighting traffic. One day last July, I posted on Nextdoor (a social networking service for neighborhoods) and asked a simple question: “Is anyone interested in joining a writers group?” I was astounded by the response – several replies started pouring in and soon I had an email list of folks who would be interested in getting together to form such a group.
I found myself in need of a space for us to meet. I asked at the library, but was informed they would charge us for the larger space we would require. Starting this group on my own meant I needed an affordable (translate free) option for our meetings. My husband and I had been visiting a church on “church row” and on a whim, I passed by to see if I could talk to Pastor Sean O’Connor about using their fellowship hall. Not being a church member, I figured it was a long shot, but “Nothing is too hard for the Lord,” so I thought it worth a try. I was excited when Pastor Sean agreed to take it to the church board to see if our writers group could use the fellowship hall on Thursday evenings, despite the fact that none of us were members of the church. Much to my surprise and delight, the board approved our meeting space and the Carrollton League of Writers was born.
Before August, no one knew each other. Pastor Sean was there our first night to welcome us, when we started meeting in the fellowship hall of the Carrollton Church of the Nazarene. Since then, people who would otherwise not have had an opportunity to meet, have become friends. Not just casual acquaintances, our members are committed to helping each other to be successful and genuinely care about one another. This sense of family extends to the church that hosts us.
Our group often participates in the ministries of the church that has so graciously provided our space. Our members brought food for the church-wide food pantry drive. When the church started an English Conversation ministry to help the immigrants in our community, several of our members have volunteered to be a part. Soon after our group started meeting in their fellowship hall, my husband and I felt led to join the church. The gift of space has become a reciprocal relationship that allows the blessings to flow in all directions. It also sends a strong message to all of the members of the writers group – that the church of God cares about the community.
When we bring the secular to the sacred, divine appointments can occur. Not all of our members are Christians, but all of our members are being shown the love of Christ. I can’t think of a more compelling witness or better use of what would otherwise be empty space on “church row.” Logistically, it may not be easy to accomplish, but then, God never called us to easy. He did call us to love our neighbor and opening our church doors to the community is a great way to live out the Second Greatest Commandment in a tangible way. Perhaps He is calling your church to do the same.